The first time your “wild” puppy has to wear a collar or harness can be a strange experience and the first exposure to the leash is often going to yield a less than impressed canine. Getting your puppy to accept this kind of free-confinement can be a bit tricky and many puppies rebel quite openly to this whole concept.
To start make sure you fit your dog with an appropriate sized collar or harness. Large tags hanging from a collar can feel heavy and cumbersome for a small puppy so make sure the very first several times you put the equipment on it is free from heavy tags and accessories. Ensure the harness is the right size and that your puppy can move freely without restriction or discomfort.
Place the collar or harness on your puppy and let him wear it around for a while. You may notice him scratching at it or attempting to bite or remove it. That is ok, just give him time to adjust. Try to distract him with a game or a favorite toy or chew. Let him wear the collar or harness for about a half an hour.
After this time has passed you should take a 6 foot (or so) length of inexpensive cotton rope from a local hardware or home-improvement store and tie it to the collar or harness where a leash would normally go. You want the rope to be thick enough and heavy enough to resemble an actual leash. You may use a leash instead of the rope for this exercise but ensure it is a leash you do not mind getting chewed up or destroyed.
We are allowing the puppy to drag this rope (or leash) around the house for another half an hour or so. This is called a “tag line” and is really a great way to keep a loose puppy in training while inside the home. There are many benefits to using a tag line for training a new puppy so you may want to read a bit about it and consider using one while training your new puppy.
The puppy is going to chew this tag line (leash or rope) and get accustomed to the heavy feeling of something being dragged around by the collar or harness. After you let the puppy drag the tagline around for your 30 minutes you’re going to gently pick up the end of the rope or leash. With a couple of treats in hand encourage your puppy to walk toward you and begin reeling the puppy in towards you while you stand in one place. Put a gentle amount of pressure on the collar or harness in an effort to let them feel guidance and a bit of pulling. The puppy may lock up all her legs in protest to this. Simply continue to call her to follow you and reel her in toward you and reward her with a treat when she reaches you. After she is given the treat and praise release the pressure or tension on the tag line (and not before).
Do this several times and reward your puppy no matter how she behaves on her way toward you. She may respond very unhappily. Try to feel a bit empathetic for her. This can be a very frustrating new experience for puppies.
After you’ve done this a handful of times begin walking on the leash while calling your puppy to follow you. Stop every few feet and give your puppy a treat for voluntarily coming up alongside you. If your puppy still resists you can begin to job and call your puppy in a really excited manner. Don’t worry if jogging seems like it might give her a bit of a hard time because she is refusing to move. Trust me, the momentum from the jogging and the enticement of a jog and play are too much for your puppy to resist. Just begin jogging and after that first tug she feels on the leash she will be joined in with you and running along mostly cooperatively. At least she’ll be moving!
If at any time during this process your puppy begins flopping around on the end of the leash like a deranged sport fish on a hook reel her in and give her a treat and then drop the leash or tag line and allow her to drag it around freely for another hour before trying again. All of this can be done inside the house where the puppy feels safe and secure. (Or in a backyard well known to the puppy).
It does tend to help to have children with you for that first leash walk outside as well. I’m not sure why other than to know that my dogs especially love children and just seem more keen to walk along if they’re with us (whether they’re my children or not-my dogs just seem to really enjoy the company of children).
After taking your puppy for a few brief leash walks around the house, yard and outside it will be time to start working on leash-manners and correct handling while on a leash. This is important for safety and it is also really helpful because walks that incorporate training will not just exercise your dog’s body but will also exercise her mind. If you’re looking to wipe out an energetic puppy a training walk is a pretty sure-fire way to do this.
Once she’s walking with that collar or harness you can move on to “Training Walks” to learn manners.